Sha-Ken finally got a website, listing themselves as Sha-Ken Co., Ltd. Big deal so what, except that it’s not 1991 or even 2001. A font company doing business without a website until 2021 is tantamount to not doing business at all. That it has taken them some 30 years to acknowledge digital fonts on the web says all that you need to know about the tragic Sha-Ken saga. The site has samples of famous classic Sha-Ken fonts that are certainly the OpenType launch candidates due in 2024, a full archive is due to go online in May. There is also a dreamy catchphrase: ‘building the next future of fonts and type culture,’ but the site design uses Google Noto Sans JP fonts…not a Sha-Ken web font to be found. Actually Sha-Ken is building supermarkets while leaving digital font development of their venerable library to Morisawa. And as FeliCa Dude gleefully notes, the company hagiography does not mention the 1999 infamous tax scandal.
There is another 1999 scandal that few people outside of Apple and Sha-Ken of that time know about: Apple almost bought Sha-Ken, or at least the library. In 1998 and 1999 I was close to Ross Evans, the founder of Fontworks. I wrote about Fontworks’ QuickDraw GX based Japanese stroke font technology and font designs that were due to be bundled as the default Japanese system font in the ill-fated MacOS Copeland. That did not pan out obviously but Ross had many close contacts within the Apple typography engineering and publishing market groups and kindly plugged me into that world including Jeff Martin who was the VP overseeing DTP marketing and developer relation efforts.
One day in early February 1999 I woke up to find a email from Jeff’s secretary asking me to contact Jeff right away. I did and his email immediately bounced back from the Apple corporate email server ‘user does not exist’, so did the secretary email address. In the space of 5 hours Jeff Martin’s position in Apple, along with his email address had vanished into thin air.
I later pieced together the story from Ross and others in Apple, many of whom soon followed Jeff out the door: Jeff had arranged a deal between Apple and Sha-Ken but the deal along with Jeff’s career at Apple were ‘Steved’ at the last second, right about the time that Japanese tax officers found millions of Japanese yen hidden away in basement safes at Sha-Ken corporate headquarters (worth more than 200 million worth in USD at the time). I never found out what he wanted to ask me.
Apple of course signed a licensing deal with Screen for the Hiragino fonts that became the MacOS X Japanese font, and iOS Japanese font later on. Perhaps the Screen deal was another reason for the collapse of the Sha-Ken one. We’ll never know. Still it’s fun to think about what would have happened had the Apple Sha-Ken deal gone through as planned.